Behind the scenes of a pre-seed launch

Startup Diaries: The Clean Skincare Company Centered on Skin Conditions

Supermaker goes to work with a co-founder fundraising for her new skincare company marrying skin conditions with self-care.

If you dream of starting a company and wonder what it’s like running the day-to-day of a business, you've come to the right place. In our series Startup Diaries, we ask new founders to take us to work for a day, and reflect on what they discovered during the process.

Today we follow Olamide Olowe, the co-founder and CEO of Topicals, a brand that’s transforming the way people feel about skin through effective, thoughtful treatments for the most bothersome of skin concerns—starting with eczema and hyperpigmentation. The company’s mission? To make managing skin conditions more compatible with self-care.


Morning

8:00am -- The first thing I do when I wake up is meditate. I’ll say a prayer and read the Bible even if it’s just a verse. I just added in a daily devotional to take more time to start the day with the right intentions. Startup life is very stressful and it’s easy to get pessimistic so I try to go into the day grateful. Next, I check my calendar to see what I have for the day. If I don’t have anything coming right away, I’ll clear out my email inbox and check Instagram for any messages. I love reading 2PM, a newsletter for polymaths founded by Web Smith.

9:00am -- I have my first call of the day with my co-founder, Claudia (who lives in Palo Alto but is moving to LA soon). We go over updates that came in while we were sleeping and map out the most important things that need to get done. We’re launching a couple of digital products today, the What Skincare Ingredient Are You? AR Filter and a horoscope skincare quiz called Skin, Sun & Stars for lead generation prior to launch.

9:30am -- I have a meeting at 11:30 a.m. so I need to start getting ready for the day. I have a very meticulous routine where I get dressed and make my bed and clean my room before I leave. I hate coming back to a messy space after a long day of work.

10:30am -- I’m rushing to leave the house because of LA traffic. I make a waffle in the toaster, drink some orange juice, grab my favorite Chinese chicken salad, and I’m out the door.

11am -- In the car on the way to my meeting, I call my parents. They have been so supportive of me ever since I decided to forego a consulting job to run Topicals. I catch up with them about their business (a chain of physical therapy clinics) and update them about what I’ve been working on. My mom keeps telling me I need to hire an assistant, but I scoff because startup budgets don’t leave room for that kind of stuff.

11:30am -- I’m meeting with Jane, co-founder of Launchpop, a launch studio for direct to consumer companies. Jane is my secret weapon. She’s a successful serial entrepreneur and really great sounding board when I have to make tough decisions. This isn’t my first startup, but being so young (23 years old), I make sure to surround myself with more experienced people.

"Not to beat a dead horse, but fundraising for Black women is very difficult. We can count 50 Black women who have raised over a million dollars for their startup, which, in the grand scheme of things, is such a menial amount of money."

Afternoon

12:30pm -- Next meeting with my investors at Mucker. I catch Will (partner at Mucker) up on our fundraise and go to market strategy. Fundraising has been really hard. There have only been about 50 Black women who have raised $1 million or more so Will takes time to prep me for success.

1:30pm -- Time for a quick lunch. I eat my Chinese chicken salad and drink a strawberry kiwi smoothie. I tend to snack all day so I usually eat a light lunch.

2pm -- The packaging design rep stops by the office to update me on lead times and different form factors. Claudia and I are really calculated in how we design products and services. Our goal is to transform the way people feel about having skin conditions so we pay close attention to every touch point we have with our customer.

3pm -- For the next couple of hours, I lock in to review our KPIs and check in on budgets for each division. As a startup, we have to stay on a strict budget, but random costs always seem to pop-up so I review our numbers daily.

5pm -- Leaving the office and headed home. I hit LA traffic again so I decide to check in with Claudia and Mica, our Director of Brand Experience. I share the analytics of the skincare quiz we just launched called Skin, Sun & Stars. We are pre-launch and lean heavily on gamification since we target Gen-Z.

Evening

6pm -- I meet my boyfriend, Cameron, for dinner at our favorite sushi spot. He catches me up on his day at work and new music he’s producing for new R&B artists.

7:30pm -- After dinner, I open my laptop again to do more work. I’m updating our investor deck with notes from my meeting with Jane and Will and adding in stats or insights from our beta group. The biggest thing I’ve learned about raising money pre-launch is about showing investors you have unique insight into an underserved demographic.

8:30pm -- Third check-in call of the day with Claudia. We go over our day and discuss a potential partnership and the two new SKUs launching in March. We troubleshoot some marketing stuff, prep for an investor call tomorrow, and send each other funny memes on Instagram for Topicals social accounts.

9:30pm -- I check my email again, make notes about what I need to respond to in the morning, and reply to messages I can handle tonight.

10:30pm -- I jump into bed with a book. Right now, I’m reading Hit Makers. I love cultural anthropology/psychology books about why people gravitate to certain products, people, or music. I read for about 45 mins to an hour.

11:30pm -- I usually fall asleep while I’m reading so before I know it, it’s lights out!


What was it like keeping track of your day?

Making a conscious effort to write down things I am doing brought to my attention how many thoughts go through your head and how many things you have to troubleshoot in a day. It’s also fun to see how many people I see or touch base within a given day.

How did this day compare to a normal or ideal day?

This was a typical day for me, I’m always rushing out the house trying to get somewhere because LA traffic sucks. I’m not a super early riser; it’s important for me to get 8 hours of sleep each night. I’m not super productive in the morning unless I have a meeting or phone call. I usually ease into my morning and have a burst of energy in the afternoon—I do spurts instead of going hard all day. I realize that when I’m trying to force myself to sit and do work all day I’m not as productive.

How do you normally stay organized and on task?

It’s so funny because I’m a Gen-Zer so you’d think I’d be more tech-focused, but I really love a good old fashioned Google doc for my to-do list for the day. My co-founder and I share a doc that says each day of the week, our names, and what we’re going to accomplish that day. We check things off so we both know what’s happening on each side. I’m also always iMessaging or on the phone with my co-founder.

"We know that people with chronic skin conditions are two to six times more likely to have depression or suffer from thoughts of suicide, so baked into our DNA is how we can create resources and spread them through the community."

Is there anything you’d like to change or do differently?

I was an athlete in college, I ran track at UCLA, and I used to work out every single day for at least five hours. Now I don’t work out as much and it’s something I want to add back in because physical activity gives you more clarity. I’d also love to get more time to meet up with other founders or people in different industries. I get more ideas by talking to people in different industries or at different stages of their business. I consider myself an extrovert, but since starting my company I’ve become more introverted and I’d like to start talking to more people.

How does your life as a founder compare to what you thought it was going to be?

Both of my parents are entrepreneurs so in some ways I kind of knew what to expect, but for some things, like raising money from VCs, my experience has been different. Sports taught me that sometimes things you wouldn’t expect can happen and that you have to be able to adapt really quickly. Being a founder is a difficult road, but you don’t have to make it super hard or be lonely in it. Some things happen that don’t make any sense, but you don’t always have to spend time trying to categorize everything and put it in a bucket, that can be detrimental. Sometimes you just have to keep moving on and not waste your time on trying to hash everything out.

What are your current business goals and how did this day tie into that?

On the day of my diary, I had a follow-up meeting with Mica, our Director of Brand Experience, and Claudia, my co-founder and product officer, about the analytics dashboard we’re going to be using to see if we’re reaching our KPIs because Skin, Sun & Stars is launching pretty soon. We’ve been working on the game for a while, but we wanted to touch base on what success will look like for us. We’ll also be releasing more digital products up until the release of our physical product in March.

We’re also donating to Sad Girls Club which is a mental health organization. We know that people with chronic skin conditions are two to six times more likely to have depression or suffer from thoughts of suicide, so baked into our DNA is how we can create resources and spread them through the community.

"I’m excited that there will be more products that serve consumers of color, but I’ll be even more excited if these products are built by and for women of color. The way we can uplift communities of color is through ownership."

What’s your experience been like as a Black woman founder?

It’s two-part. It’s been really awesome because there’s a lot of opportunity to serve Black and Brown consumers. I’m really fortunate and blessed to have investors and partners who support me and understand and push to bring these products to life and serve these communities. I’m really excited about the things we’re creating. But on the other hand it has been difficult. Not to beat a dead horse, but fundraising for Black women is very difficult. We can count 50 Black women who have raised over a million dollars for their startup, which, in the grand scheme of things, is such a menial amount of money in starting any kind of tech or tech-enabled software business.

It’s unfortunate that this is still the case. Black women raise about .002% of the venture capital that gets dished out; we hope to change that narrative. I’m really excited to see more Black women get money to create products that serve Black consumers; it’s a very under-tapped and hungry demographic. I’m excited that there will be more products that serve consumers of color, but I’ll be even more excited if these products are built by and for women of color. The way we can uplift communities of color is through ownership.

Do you have any words of advice for new founders—especially Black women?

I am 23 years old and I am a Black woman founder. And it can be very difficult sometimes. What has helped me is really honing into why I am the best person to create this product as well as the insight that no one can take away from me. That’s helped us in fundraising and has helped to inform our product strategy. My advice is to figure out why you are the absolutely best person to do what you want to do—whether it’s because of your cultural background or your age. Figure out what you’re placed on this earth to do, and then figure out how to tell that story.

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